Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Gracyn McNiell loves to play pickleball.
The Mt. Pleasant Middle School seventh-grader’s enthusiasm for the sport is contagious. That enthusiasm was on display Saturday when student players and fans packed the new pickleball courts at the school for a tournament, a tournament organized and run by McNiell and five classmates.
The idea was sparked just after Christmas break by teacher Jen Stater who challenged students in the Talented and Gifted program to identify problems or deficiencies at the school and solve them.
Here’s where McNiell’s love for pickleball entered the picture. She and her family moved to Mt. Pleasant in August 2019, packed with her possessions was that love of pickleball.
She identified a problem. There were no pickleball tournaments for young people.
There were new courts — a community project that was completed in August on the middle school property. Students began learning the sport — which includes elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis — in PE classes. The sport had been taught previously, but there was room for only four courts in the gym. The new six courts accommodate 24 students playing at a time.
McNiell needed help. She turned to Addison Clark and began convincing her that this was the project for the class.
“I didn’t like the idea at first,” Clark said. “That’s a big thing.”
The two began recruiting others. Ramzy Davis, Noah Lang, Christian Stacy and Saige Burchett joined the team. All are seventh-graders.
“We had lots of help,” Clark said.
Turns out there are a lot of tasks putting on a tournament.
“We had a long list,” McNiell said. “We kind of had to dial it down.”
They had help in coming up with a game plan from Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Kristi Perry who met with them and offered suggestions.
The students contacted sponsors, recruited players in presentations to each advisory class and developed the tournament organization.
Each had assignments and tackled the tasks every day.
“It was really cool to watch them as this process went on,” Stater said, describing herself as a facilitator for the students.
Calling sponsors was “nerve wracking,” McNiell said, her teammates nodding in agreement.
They overcame those nerves and were successful in getting sponsors. Anywear Apparel donated T-shirts, Hy-Vee provided hot dogs for lunch and the group that built the pickleball courts donated pickleballs for all contestants. Staats Awards supplied medals for the top three teams.
The group made presentations to all advisory classes to recruit teams for the tournament. More than 30 signed up. On Saturday, there were 21 teams competing.
Davis had experience with brackets from his wrestling team. He and Lang went online, found a program for brackets and then modified it for the middle school tournament.
“We all pitched in for what Graycyn and Addison wanted us to do,” Davis said. “A lot of little things go into a tournament.”
He added: “Getting everything done was more complicated than I thought.”
But they did get everything done. On Saturday, the courts were packed. The seventh-grade leadership team kept the tournament rolling, getting players onto the courts in the championship and consolation brackets.
A drone flew overhead, documenting the event.
The one downside: A stiff wind wreaked havoc on the batted balls.
Overall, it was a success. In addition to the fun time everybody had at the tournament, the students tallied the skills they had learned — organization and planning, public speaking and soliciting sponsorships.
But that’s not the end of the story, the six students are already talking about a bigger tournament next year where they invite other schools to compete.